How Citizen Lobbyists Can Influence Electeds on the Local Level (and a wonderful song!)

Since the passage of the budget and the Cuomo education initiatives my inbox has been filled with the comments of angry teachers.

* I’ll never bother voting again, it’s a waste of time.
* Politicians are subservient to the rich and don’t care about ordinary voters.
* I’ll never vote for a Republican or a Democrat, I’ll only vote for a third party candidate.
* Everyone should register as independents, not a major party.
* I sent 20 e-mails; it’s a waste of time.

I asked a state legislator how many e-mails he receives in a day.

“Anywhere between 500 and 1,000, I ask my intern to tally them by topic, and, my fax machine hums all day. If there’s an address attached from within the district I try and send an answer, otherwise I toss them, it’s overwhelming.”

Every day, before and or after a session the members meet in a closed door party caucus called “conference.” The leadership gives an update and the members freely discuss the issues, no votes are taken. Conference gives leadership an opportunity to “take the temperature” of the delegation and interact with members. Community activism varies around the state, Long Island Opt-Out parents and NYSUT, the state teachers union, have bombarded legislators, others legislators a trickle, most legislators are in “safe” districts, redistricting resulting from the ten-year census is controlled by the majority party in each house. There are 105 Democrats in the 150-seat Assembly. In the Senate the Independent Democratic Caucus and two Democrats caucus with the Republicans; a secure Republican majority.

Legislators made it abundantly clear, they opposed the Cuomo “reforms” and the leadership, the brand new Speaker, Carl Heastie, pushed back up until the last moment.

Leadership counts votes: the budget received 92 Democratic votes. All the Republicans in the Assembly voted against the budget, and all of the Democrats voted against the budget in the Senate.

There are some outliers within delegations who vote as they please; however, to alienate leadership means your bills will not move. Such is the reality of our political system. Legislators, as a courtesy, will inform leadership if they are voting against a leadership supported bill. If leadership has the votes, the member will get a pass. It is unheard of for an item to reach the floor and not pass, if leadership cannot count enough votes they withdraw the item.

After weeks of negotiations between the governor and the Democratic leadership an agreement was reached, from the perspective of the Speaker the final bill was as much as he could get, and, as I explained in my previous post voting down the budget was not an option.

A month down the road the legislature will be back with a full agenda. Should the charter school cap be increased? The 2% property tax “sunsets” and requires legislative action, as does mayoral control and rent control in New York City. For New York City legislators mayoral control and rent control are crucial issues, for the rest of the state the property tax cap is just as crucial. The legislature adjourns about the third week in June.

I worked in a New York City Community School District that actively lobbied local electeds. In December the Superintendent and the School Board organized a meeting, the invited guests: all the electeds as well as the local party leaders, parent representatives and union reps. Each year the district had an “ask,” specific budgetary items to assist the district. And, it was effective; my district probably led the city in “member item” dollars as well as special perks in the budget. We had state-funded pre-k classes in every school in the eighties and nineties. Yes, not fair, a diverse district; however, far “richer” than many other districts in the city; however, a district that understood politics.

My baptism of fire originated in school board elections. From 1972 until the beginning of mayoral control in 2003 school boards were elected. My district had many teacher residents; we developed campaigns to create coalitions among parents and teachers to elect the “good guys and gals” to the school board, with substantial success.

I urged teachers to join political clubs, to run for office within the party structure.

On club night I showed up at the most active clubs, I was the “teacher union guy,” who could occasionally resolve a parent issue or direct them to the person who could answer the question.

Do you contribute to your local elected? In New York State there are contribution limits, and all contributions are on a state web site. A small contribution goes a long way.

I would invite local electeds to speak, and answer questions at my union meetings.

The essence of politics is relationships, not the single issue one-timer.

Yes, the passage of many of the Cuomo initiatives was frustrating. You win some and lose some. The fight goes on. The more you are involved the more influence you have, the more familiar your face the more impact.

And, if you totally lose confidence in your elected, organize opposition in the party primary. Or, at least, start talking out it. Turnouts in the September primary elections is miniscule, A few thousand votes can win a primary election. Simply discussing the possibility of a primary can drive an elected to your direction.

Too many of my “cyber friends” are tuned off by politics; aside from teachers and parents there are a range of other activists: the “Dreamers,” the supporters of rent control, the anti-frackers, the pro-gun and anti-gun folks, and on and on, electeds make choices, some are totally involved in environmental issues, others women’s rights, and in New York City the upcoming rent control fight will be vicious.

There is always the next fight, the next election.

If you back away, if you renounce political activism you are benefiting the “bad guys,” apathy is unacceptable.

In my view we are opposed to high stakes testing, opposed to the Cuomo agenda, what do we favor? On the national level Randi Weingarten, the AFT President supports “solutions-driven unionism,” on the local or state level we need a narrow achievable agenda.

And besides, we have much better music:


2 responses to “How Citizen Lobbyists Can Influence Electeds on the Local Level (and a wonderful song!)

  1. ‘Ed’,

    Where do you stand on opting out?


  2. Superintendent should provide:
    * an opt-out form
    * position papers, pro and anti opt-out written by advocates on each side
    * an explanation to parents re how test scores are utilized in the district.

    Allow informed parents to make an informed decision.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s